The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has a new program offering grants for projects that increase tribal access to broadband internet.
Some applicants received full project funding in the first round of funding, while others received "equitable distribution grants"—grants up to $500,000 instead of the amount they requested. But NTIA didn't provide constructive feedback to the equitable distribution grant recipients. Feedback could help them improve their applications for the second round of funding or for other programs.
We recommended that NTIA provide this feedback or another form of assistance in the second round.
What GAO Found
In managing the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has not provided constructive feedback to applicants that received equitable distribution grants. Applicants that received or expected to receive equitable distribution grants said that constructive feedback could help them understand why they did not receive full funding and improve their applications in the second round of program funding. They also said it could increase their confidence in the impartiality of the program's award process. Leading practices for managing broadband grant programs include providing feedback to applicants. NTIA officials said they planned to provide technical assistance to applicants re-applying in the second round of funding, which they said could provide the kind of feedback that applicants said they need. Without constructive feedback, applicants that receive equitable distribution grants will not have the information needed to address issues in their applications in the second, possibly final, round of funding.
Why GAO Did This Study
Tribal access to broadband internet lags behind the rest of the country. However, two recent appropriations totaling $3 billion for the new Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program provided the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with an opportunity to help increase tribal access to broadband. As of July 25, 2023, NTIA had announced 191 grants totaling $1.79 billion of the $1.98 billion it planned to award under its original notice. On July 27, 2023, NTIA issued a second notice of funding opportunity under which almost $1 billion will be made available to eligible entities.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, includes a provision for GAO to review the grants awarded under this program. In January 2023, we began our second review of TBCP in response to a provision in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. This report provides timely information about an aspect of the program—feedback to applicants—while we continue our review of NTIA's administration of the program.
GAO reviewed NTIA program documentation and interviewed program officials. GAO also obtained testimonial evidence from 13 entities eligible for the program that received or expect to receive partial grants through a survey, interviews, and conversations at tribal broadband events.
GAO is recommending that the Administrator of NTIA provide applicants that receive equitable distribution grants in the first round of funding for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program with constructive feedback—by providing debriefings or technical assistance—to help these applicants improve their applications for the second round of funding.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|National Telecommunications and Information Administration
|The Administrator of NTIA should provide applicants that receive equitable distribution grants in the first round of TBCP with constructive feedback—by providing debriefings or technical assistance—to help these applicants improve their applications for the second round of TBCP funding. (Recommendation 1)